From Sukkot into War

Rabbi Arthur Waskow


By Rabbi Arthur Waskow

For the week of the Harvest Festival that began September 20, , the Jewish people has taken delight in a leafy, leaky, shaky hut — the sukkah. It is vulnerable, open to the earth and to other human beings and communities. Open in both directions: not only do we welcome guests inward, we reach outward to others.

On Sukkot, the ancient Rabbis taught, there were 70 sacrifices because the Jewish people was blessing all the 70 nations with lives of peace and prosperity. On Sukkot, says the Prophet Zechariah, all the nations will come together to celebrate the Unity of God and burn their weapons.

Sukkot is the holy time for Messianic hope: the festival of redemption, fulfillment; the harvesting of our year's work; the fullness of the moon in the sabbatical seventh month.

And traditionally we pray each night throughout the year, "Spread over us Your sukkah of shalom, of secure and harmonious peace."

These teachings are of course not only Jewish wisdom. They abound in every religious tradition.

Yet this year, the government of the United States intends to ignore the urgent advice of almost all the nations and strike first against a nation that we have defined as a possible future enemy.

Even though that nation has responded to international pressure by inviting international inspectors to test out its assertions that it is not preparing weapons of mass destruction.

Even though many experts and practitioners of US foreign policy of impeccable realpolitik persuasion, like Brent Scowcroft — no dove he!! — have said that a war against Iraq makes no sense.

Even though practically every expert on Iraqi weaponry, including the most belligerently critical-of-Iraq inspector, Scott Ritter, has reported that there is no evidence Iraq now has, or in its deeply impoverished state can access, nuclear or chemical weapons;

Even though the greatest danger that Iraq might use whatever weapons of mass destruction it might barely be supposed to have would come precisely when the very regime was under direct attack and Saddam Hussein would have nothing to lose by using them directly and through terrorist surrogates against the US and its allies, including Israel;

Even though such a war is likely to be long and bloody, killing tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and probably thousands or tens of thousands of Americans. (Ousting Saddam Hussein is very likely to require either hand-to-hand, house-to-house fighting in Baghdad, with the deaths of many Americans, or the bombing of that city in ways that will kill tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians.)

Even though months of such a war, with brutal bombings or door-to-door fighting, is the torch most likely to set uncontrollable fire to the rage of humiliated Arab and Muslim masses from Egypt to Pakistan, to put US-friendly governments under greatest strain, and to bring about an endless and immensely destructive war between the US and the Arab/Islamic worlds, including the self-multiplying use of murderous terror against Americans;

Even though there is far greater danger of terrorist use of nuclear weapons bought or stolen from the rickety security of Russian, arsenals, and even though the present government of the US has been utterly lazy about securing those extremely dangerous weapons;

Even though no one has been able to show any serious evidence of Iraqi collusion in the 9/11 terrorist murders;

Even though one former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, has warned that a war against Iraq would violate the most solemn commitments of the United States in the UN Charter, and would shred the fabric of internatiional law and comity that gives some limited protection to us all — the very fabric that brought other nations to our side when we were brutally attacked a year ago;

Even though the internal Iraqi minority worst damaged by Saddam, the Kurds, have publicly said that the autonomy they have won through establishment of the no-fly, no-troop zone under US protection has provided what they need, and a war would put them in great danger;

Even though the war would be enormously expensive, preventing for a decade any serious investment in health care, education, or environmental protection by any US government;

Even though we have already seen that civil liberties in the US have come under serious threat during this past year's war of much smaller scope, and that a much bigger war is extremely likely to sharply diminish civil liberties.

I invoke Sukkot not as a briefly magic moment of messianic peace that ought not be violated, but as a teaching of continuing values. A teaching that ought not be celebrated only in words on our lips in private or communal prayer, but through action that joins with prayer into the wholeness of our selves.

As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously said after marching alongside Dr. Martin Luther King — "I felt that my legs were praying," — so let us now bring our hands and legs in rhythm with our prayers.

Most urgently of all, what can we do?

As I write on September 22, 2002, the MOST urgent action is to strengthen the backbone of those on Capitol Hill who have grave doubts about this war. (I think changing the Bush government's mind is now hopeless, unless Congress makes clear it will not surrender to this rush into war.)

And with this, to strengthen the knowledge among the American people that there are deep doubts about this war.

So I would urge a phone call or a FAXED (rather than Emailed) letter to Sen Tom Daschle (voice 202/224-2321; fax 202/ 224-6603) and to your own Senators and your Member of the House, who can be reached thru 202/ 225-3121 or 202/ 224-3121.

And you can use most of the same letter in writing the editor of your local newspaper.

Even if the war begins, it is possible to end it — as the American people showed, with long and deep efforts in self-transformation, that it was possible to end the US war against Vietnam. The same two approaches — simultaneously reaching the public and the Congress — will be necessary.

These comments flow from the work of The Shalom Center, a North American network committed to draw on Jewish wisdom, old and new, in order to pursue peace, justice, and the healing of the earth.

It is a division of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, but these thoughts do not necessarily reflect those of ALEPH as a whole.


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